Unbound moves to reprint 10K copies of literary mystery puzzle after TikTok generates sell-out

Unbound moves to reprint 10K copies of literary mystery puzzle after TikTok generates sell-out

Unbound is racing to re-print 10,000 copies of literary mystery Cain's Jawbone after the book sold out when a clip went viral on TikTok.

The TikTok clip went viral through the Booktok community and has so far received 4.2 million views, 5,300 comments, over 36,100 shares on Whatsapp and over one million likes, according to the publisher. Orders in the US have surpassed 10,0000 in open back orders and over 3,000 in orders in Canada. 

Unbound sold out of the book in 24 hours following the viral clip and "is currently fielding a flurry of foreign rights queries", according to the crowdfunding publisher.

The reprint for 10,000 copies includes a significant order for Waterstones, with a sizeable uptake also expected from Amazon. Books are set to be in shops by mid-December, in time for Christmas.

Authored by the Observer’s first cryptic crossword setter, Edward Powys Mathers, Cain's Jawbone was first published by Gollancz in 1934, under his pen name Torquemada. It was written with the pages deliberately out of order so readers are invited to solve the murder mystery by re-ordering the 100 pages.

In 1935, the Observer reported that two readers, S Sydney-Turner and W S Kennedy, had solved the puzzle and received £25, but kept the solution a secret. 

The answer was thought to be lost, but when the Laurence Sterne Trust — a charity that seeks to promote and preserve the legacy of the Tristram Shandy author — was presented with a copy of The Torquemada Puzzle Book, Patrick Wildgust, curator of Shandy Hall (where Sterne lived), became interested in the mystery.

He went on to collaborate with John Mitchinson, Unbound co-founder, and the book was reissued. It was published by Unbound as a postcard book in 2019 and a £1,000 prize was offered to anyone who could solve it within a year. John Finnemore, British comedy writer and creator of Radio 4’s "Cabin Pressure", was one of 12 entrants, and the only one to get the answer right. 

In response to the continued interest in the puzzle, Unbound and The Laurence Sterne Trust decided to keep the solution secret and re-release Cain’s Jawbone in paperback in July this year. Although the main prize has been claimed, the publisher will continue to accept and mark entries. Anyone who solves the puzzle before 31st December 2022, will receive £250 to spend supporting other book projects on the Unbound site.

Commenting on the book's success, Mitchinson said: "It’s always nice when a publishing idea from another age suddenly finds itself fashionable again. Three years ago, I was sitting with my elderly father, enjoying tea and cake with Patrick Wildgust in Laurence Sterne’s study at Shandy Hall in Coxwold, North Yorkshire. Patrick, who is the live-in curator of that wonderful house, showed me his copy of The Torquemada Puzzle Book from 1934 which contained the text of Cain’s Jawbone and we both had the same idea. 

"As a puzzle, Cain’s Jawbone is almost impossibly difficult: it took the one living person who has solved it – the comedy writer John Finnemore – four months of research. The number of possible combinations of individual pages generates a figure with 158 zeroes. It is full of red herrings and blind alleys.

Half of the profits generated by sales of the book will go to the The Laurence Sterne Trust because Mitchinson said Sterne "adored setting literary puzzles and finding clever ways to market his books".